Review: Not Your Villain

Not Your VillainTitle: Not Your Villain
Author:  C.B. Lee
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Superhero
Pages: 307
Publisher: Duet Books
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government? Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been looking forward to this book since the secod I finished the first book in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick (review here). As I’m sure you can tell, I loved Not Your Sidekick — Asian rep! Queer rep and romance! Adorable friendship! Wonderful superhero worldbuilding! It had everything. Not Your Villain builds on that and is a wonderful addition to the series.

Not Your Villain centers around another member of Jessica Tran’s friend group — Bells Broussard. The book starts a while before Not Your Sidekick does, with Bells going to superhero training in Aerial City. Training is challenging for a number of reason: He’s afraid of heights, for one thing, and he must keep his identity secret because of who he is and who his family is. But Bells has more potential than anyone, including himself, realizes. The story eventually catches up to the events of Not Your Sidekick, and when he’s framed as one of the most wanted villains around, his relationships and superhero abilities are tested.

The chronology of events in Not Your Villain definitely wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed the chance to learn more about the world and Bells through the flashbacks and flash-forwards. Bells is such a wonderful hero: He’s good-hearted and determined, his hair is ever-changing, and he comes from a family of activist farmers. That’s pretty darn cool.

There’s so much to love in Not Your Villain. If you haven’t read Not Your Sidekick, definitely go read that, and then move on to Not Your Villain. I can’t wait to read Not Your Backup, and I know it’ll be just as amazing as the first two books in this series. If you love superhero YA, this is absolutely a must-read.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Tanuja Desai Hidier











Today we welcome Tanuja Desai Hidier to the blog to share about her writing and music.

Tell us a bit about your life as a writer. What drew you to writing and what has kept you writing?

Reading! I’ve turned to the pen since as far back as I could hold it, and savor, seep into, fall into, flip a page. I was around five when I wrote my first poems: “The Secret” (spoiler alert: it’s a feather) and “Nelly & Shelly” (the fascination with supertwins commenced early). I wrote mostly poems till my teens; I have boxloads of three-ring binders of them in my childhood home. Some of these poems had melodies too–were first songs, in a sense. As a child I also invented bands and singers: designed their album covers, wrote and recorded songs for them on my tape recorder, and had a whole index card system where I’d draw them on one side, and write their bios on the other.

Funnily, none of my singers were ever women of color (always women, though). In fact, I only realized in my 30s, maybe even 40s, that this was the same of my short story characters (and I was writing those from about six years old onwards too—a long time!).

Most likely because I’d never seen such heroes and heroines on bookshelves, TV screens, magazine pages (and street: my family was the first of our particular ‘brown’ in our town, and the first to immigrate from both sides of the family in the 60s).

Many years later—after eons of procrastination, distraction, and, mainly, self-doubt in terms of not only my ability to write a novel, but whether I even had a story to tell—one of the reasons I wrote Born Confused and protagonist Dimple Lala was to fill this hole on my childhood bookshelf with a South Asian American coming of age story. To create heroes and heroines who more closely resembled those  in my own life. My own home.

Born Confused is considered to be the first South Asian American YA novel, and recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. The sequel,  Bombay Blues, received the 2015 South Asia Book Award. Can you tell us more about them?

All those years ago, when I was writing Born Confused, I didn’t realize so consciously that it was the first South Asian American YA novel. I was just trying to tell my truth. Truths. But funny how when you do that you often stumble across the truths of others.

Born Confused is a book about a teen girl, her heart, her home, her camera, her cultures…and how they all ultimately harmonize when she stops seeing things as black and white, or even shades of grey, but rather as magnificently multidimensioned and (it’s true!)…rich in color.  Set largely in the context of New York City’s bhangra / Asian Underground club scene, the story follows Indian-American heroine Dimple Lala through a summer that turns her world on its head as she tries to bring together her cultures without falling apart in the process. The book takes its title from ABCD, or American Born Confused Desi, a term used to describe these second and third generation South Asians
who are supposedly “confused” about where their roots lie—and on one level is a journey towards clarity, turning that C for Confused into a C for Creative…which feels like it better describes the desis in my own life.

Born Confused is my exploration of ‘brown.’ And, many years after that, one of the reasons I wrote Bombay Blues—an exploration of ‘blue’—was to move beyond the skin. Set against the backdrop of Mumbai’s contemporary indie music and arts scene, this crossover/adult novel/sequel sees Dimple journey from New York to Bombay, and adolescence to adulthood, in a now globalized India…where she bumps against and blurs the boundaries between tradition and the modern, East and West, in a whole new way. It’s Dimple’s first experience of being brown among the brown, and her personal and artistic journey leads her to follow blue—the color, the mood, the music, on into the
wild blue yonder (that of her heart as well).

In the decade between novels—during which time I also became a mother to two daughters—I explored a few other book ideas. But in the end, I suppose I missed Dimple too much; I was wondering how and where she was, what she was up to… and knew the only answer to that question would be to write it. And Bombay, it became compellingly clear, was where I could find her.

Becoming a parent myself certainly crystallized my desire to learn this part of my own parents’ history better: the city of their courtship, of my mother and brother’s birth—yet a place American-born me barely knew. I longed to write my way towards this metropolis of myth and memory—and, hopefully, into it.

In the 15 years since you wrote Born Confused, have you seen change in the YA community?

Enormous changes! Some pretty wonderful happy beginnings are happening in the world today…which is heartening, given the difficulties of our time. For example, in the world of books…well, Dimple and I didn’t have a lot of on-page company back then. Today, the literary landscape is so different—wonderfully. Far more windows and mirrors (I look at my daughters’ bookshelves and—wow! On the desi front alone: Uma Krishnaswami, Marina Budhos, Mitali Perkins, Vivek Shraya, Padma Venkatraman, Nidhi Chanani. Nisha Sharma, SJ Sindu, Samira Ahmed, Sona Charaipotra, Pooja Makhijani, Sharbari Ahmed. To name a few!)

Back when I wrote Dimple, there was no #WeNeedDiverseBooks. No #OwnVoices. (No Twitter, either.) No community for this kind of amplification and fortification. (Thank gods we have access to it now.)

Until the readers. And then…FROCK! what a blessing. Thank you to the readers, the librarians, the teachers who have nurtured Dimple (and me! and us!) through all these years. For opening your own hearts and giving us a home. For letting us choose—and write— our heroes.

And, what a revelation: WE can be heroes!

And you know, during these fraught times, we also MUST be. Our diverse, universal stories are more important than ever. Stories can be such powerful peacemakers: slipping you into the shoes of another and showing you how to walk.



And: We can write things into being, too. Show the world not only as it is but how it could be. And show yourself how you can be, too.

Are you writing any YA right now or in the near future that you may talk about?

Born Confused is set in NYC and sequel Bombay Blues in Bombay/Mumbai…and I’ve often felt there should be a third part to Dimple
Lala’s story: the London book (my base for yeeears, and the beloved city from where where I wrote NYC and Bombay: a Portobello Road flat and Muswell Hill/SoHo cafs respectively). A sister city where every inch every moment you can have a multisensory experience of all the ways race, culture, art, music, diaspora, motherlands intersect. And where Asian culture is such a part of the main and sub cultures.

Funny I’ve never written about a place while in it…so maybe I’ll have to pitch home base elsewhere for that London book (and album!) to emerge…?

How are your books and music connected?

I write songs as well as fiction, and have made albums of original music connected to both my novels (‘booktracks’). When We Were Twins: songs based on Born Confused. And Bombay Spleen—songs connected to Bombay Blues. It was a natural progression for me to explore the stories in music (I was in a playing /gigging London band while writing Born Confused and had just been in one in NYC, too).

Bookwriting, songwriting: They are very much part of the same creative process for me: shining a light on the same story from different angles, and —sometimes more audibly, sometimes more visibly, sometimes in that deep humming writing silence–exploring the same questions.

And finally: What are you doing to celebrate Dimple Lala’s 15th anniversary?

Celebrating The We! Our communities, our storytellers, our culture-makers-and-shapers. With the DEEP BLUE SHE #Mutiny2Unity #MeToo #WeMix music video project—a year in the making (massive shoutout to editor Atom Fellows)—featuring 100+ artist/activists (including authors Marina Budhos; Gemma Weekes; Kat Beyer; Uma Krishnaswami; Elizabeth Acevedo; Cynthia Leitich-Smith; Paula Yoo; Sharbari Ahmed; Mitali Desai; Eliot Schrefer; Mira Kamdar; Nico Medina; Billy Merrell; Bill Konigsberg). In a way, Deep Blue She is my birthday promise to Dimple Lala: To keep celebrating the ‘skins’ we’re in, honoring our collective and individual voices. And it’s a thank you as well, to the communities I’m blessed to know and call home, for their dedication and determination to fight the good fight. To tell our stories. And be heard.

(And hopefully to offer support and concrete help so others can do so: all artist proceeds from sales of the remix at Bandcamp to charity.)

Please watch, share, and join the #MergrrrlMovement!

With thanks and love from me and Dimple.

Tanuja Desai Hidier is an author, singer-songwriter, and innovator of the ‘booktrack’ (albums of original songs to accompany her novels). Her first novel, Born Confused—considered to be the first ever South Asian American YA novel—recently turned 15. Born Confused has been hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Paste Magazine as one of the greatest YA novels of all time (on lists including such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and Little Women). Tanuja is the recipient of the 2015 South Asia Book Award (for her second novel, Bombay Blues), the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and the London Writers/Waterstones Award, and her short stories have been included in numerous anthologies. Her most recent project— the DEEP BLUE SHE #Mutiny2Unity #MeToo #WeMix music video/PSA, based on a track from her second album, and featuring 100+ artist/activists (mostly women of color)—is now live. Outlook India calls it “The We Are The World of our times.” All artist proceeds from sales of the remix to charity. More info at:

Photo credit: Alicali Photo

Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone

Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Tomi Adeyemi
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 525
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

Review: Tomi Adeyemi’s debut fantasy novel is Black Girl Magic – literally. Zélie is a beautiful Black girl who is finally able to tap into her magic and is goes on a journey to bring magic back to her country. Children of Blood and Bone is the Hero’s Journey novel with a Black protagonist, no with Black people and an Afrocentric bent, that I’ve been waiting for. This was another one of those reads where I had planned to read slowly over the course of a few days, but basically ended up staying up to the wee hours of the night, sleeping for a few hours, then finishing it before I did anything the next morning. I was so into Zélie ’s journey and that of Prince Inan that I couldn’t put the book down.

Based on the summary, I thought the novel would be told from just Zélie ’s POV, but in actuality it was from three different POV’s and I really loved it. Of course, since Zélie is the main protagonist we are with her more in the story, but we also get to be with Amari and Inan, the royal princess and prince of Orïsha. Amari and Zélie travel together while Inan chases them down. While Inan is the antagonist of the novel, I feel he is more of a foil to Zélie as he goes on a similar journey of the self as well. He and Zélie end up having a unique connection which created a wonderful connection that brought a unique tension to the story, forcing the two enemies to get to know each other. Their budding relationship was so compelling as I felt both had equal weight in the determination of whether magic would return to Orïsha based on their personal experiences with magic. The push and pull between them was more than just attraction as they also had a difference in beliefs and challenged each other. Despite Inan being a prince and Zélie being a resident of Orïsha, in their interactions they treated each other as equals, respecting each other’s agency and power. I also felt the same with Amari and Zélie ’s relationship, though their friendship did begin rocky, they eventually learn to trust and love each other and become like sisters. Zélie pushed Amari to become more than she ever thought she could be and Amari gave Zélie the support she needed as Zélie learned to harness and control her powers. Amari is the friend that every girl needs – the one that will fight for you if needed. I love their relationship and feel it’s a wonderful portrayal of the sisterhood that can be achieved between girls.

I would be a horrible reviewer if I did not point out the terrific world building Adeyemi created for Children of Blood and Bone. Adeyemi uses the Orisha gods and goddesses as the basis for the mythology and magic that is Zélie ’s world. Each of the gods and goddesses are revered by specific maji clans whose powers are a gift from the gods but also represent what each earthly element the god represents. I found this aspect of the novel fascinating and would love to know more about what life was like before all the maji were killed, but the wonderful part of the book is that I know the journey Zélie is on will be a rebuilding of that world (to a certain extent). As Zélie goes on her journey the world of Orïsha comes to life, my favorite being the temple at Chandomble, a former community of maji who were massacred by the king, but one persons survived. The way Adeyemi describes the buildings, the lifestyle of the community really bring home how cruel the king was and brings home the magnitude of the loss of the maji. I could imagine this beautiful temple that had a thriving community full of families living in buildings filled with amazing murals everywhere of the gods and goddesses. It was details such as these that transported me to Orisha that I wish I could really go there. So many beautiful descriptions of the people, the land, the culture made me feel with Zélie and her fight to have her world righted again.

Like I said earlier, I couldn’t put Children of Blood and Bone down. I was so captivated by the world Adeyemi created, captured by Zélie, Amari, and Inan’s stories & their growth, and the magic that Adeyemi created, that I was sad when I finished the book. I wasn’t quite ready to leave Zélie’s world just yet, but I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel. Go get this book, you won’t be disappointed.


Interview with Adam Garnet Jones

We’re happy to welcome Adam Garnet Jones to Rich in Color today. Fire Song is out in the world now and he answered a few questions about the novel, the film, and his writing.

Fire Song Synopsis: Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves—his friend, David.

Things go from bad to worse as Shane’s dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

With deep insight into the life of Indigenous people on the reserve, this book masterfully portrays how a community looks to the past for guidance and comfort while fearing a future of poverty and shame. Shane’s rocky road to finding himself takes many twists and turns, but while his path doesn’t always offer easy answers, it does leave the reader optimistic about his fate.

Crystal’s Review

How did Fire Song come into being?

I started writing Fire Song as a feature film. I was looking for a story that was rooted in my own seminal experiences with isolation, suicide, and depression, but I also wanted to talk about the epidemic of suicide in Indigenous communities. I heard so many non-Indigenous people asking why, as though Indigenous youth suicide was an impossible riddle. The reasons why our young people are in so much pain could not be more clear to me. It’s difficult for me to imagine anyone who is paying the remotest attention to Indigenous people in Canada being confused by why our young people are taking their lives. I wanted to write a story that could touch on the multitude of intersecting systemic issues at play in Indigenous communities – issues that make some communities particularly vulnerable to the spiritual hopelessness that we call suicidality.

Readers often wonder how much of the author’s own story is on the page. Can you share a bit about some of the similarities between you and Shane?

Shane’s story isn’t my story, but he and I have some similarities. Shane grew up in a community where there is a war between Christians and traditionalists. I grew up in a lot of different places, but I’ve never had a real community except the ones that have welcomed me in; I’ve always been a guest. I’ve always been an outsider;Shane has always been home. We’re both Queer and Indigenous. Neither of us are comfortable with labels. I’m Cree/Metis and Shane is Anishinaabe. Shane found love when he was very young, but I never did. He and I are both bookworms and high-achievers – the kind of kids that teachers liked. We both stayed with people we didn’t love for too long because we were afraid of hurting them. We’re both hungry to see everything the world has to offer, but we crave community and connection most of all. We have both wanted to die over and over throughout the course of our young lives. It’s easier for us to see a path to the spirit world than it is to see our path to the future.

If you could step back in time, what would you tell your younger self?

So many things: Stop running and try to enjoy the climb. Go to therapy. Now. You are someone worth taking care of. No affirmation from the outside world will ever touch the sadness inside, so stop looking for others to give you permission to live. Try to love yourself. Try and fail. Never stop trying.

For Tara, writing is an essential part of her life. She seems to find her voice through poetry. “But I keep thinking that a really good one–the right magic combination of words–might save your life.” Do you believe the same? Have any poems or specific pieces of writing had a big impact in your life?

Reading has been incredibly important to me. Certain books have come along at different points in my life and changed me, not because they were about anything close to my own experience, but because the aching humanity, the search for connection, and the fight for survival at the core of great writing has a clearer resolution and meaning than the yearnings and tragedies of my own life. Hard things in books are always beautiful, and packed with lessons about how to live. Hard things in my own life leave me dizzy and confused. The act of reading (and writing) brings clarity to that experience. I remember once, after moving in with a boyfriend, being hit by a wave of serious depression. I wanted to die (for good reason, for no reason) as I had many times before. I went out to walk alone and I wrote down a conversation between myself and my depression in a little notebook. Through writing that conversation, I realized that the sadness would always be with me, no matter what happened in my life. It was a kind of companion that I had to learn to live with. I’ll always remember that night, because the writing allowed by to separate that sadness from my own identity. I came to a kind of peace with my depression as with a sibling that I’ve fought with my whole life. If I hadn’t been able to work through that on the page, I would have tempted that darkness by putting my body in danger.

Creating a film and writing a novel are both storytelling, but what were some of the distinct challenges of each?

One of the most difficult things about making a film is trying to maintain your vision for the story while under the pressure of time and budget, and while a hundred other artists are making thousands of tiny alterations to the image you have in your head. The inverse problem with writing the novel is that it is just you and the page. No other voices. No one to tell you when you’re doing well or when you’re lost.

Do you see yourself writing more novels in the future or will you keep your focus on film?

I would love to write more novels. I have a couple of other books in mind, but it’s difficult to know exactly how to begin.

Who are the storytellers who have been inspirational in your life?

So many! James Baldwin, Eden Robinson, Toni Morrison, Richard Van Camp, Louise Erdrich, Salman Rushdie, Jennifer Egan, John Steinbeck, Tommy Pico, Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Halfe, Larry Kramer, Toy Kushner, Thomas King, Edward Albee…

Thanks for your time and for sharing so much with us!

Review: The Poet X

Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Genres: Contemporary, Poetry
Pages: 368
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC received via publisher
Availability: Available for purchase now

Summary: A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

Review: Note: The Poet X includes physical and religious abuse, sexual harassment, and references to homophobia.

One of the best things about a novel in verse is how immediate the character’s voice can feel. Xiomara is an outstanding character who is trying to figure out how to express herself and coming to terms with the fact that what her church teaches (and her mother staunchly believes) does not reflect the world as she sees it or the way she wants to live. She is sharp, witty, and always bracing for a fight, and some of my favorite poems are the contrasts between what she wants to say and what she actually feels she can say (e.g., her homework assignments).

The Poet X is a great coming of age story. Xiomara pretty much does it all—falling in love, questioning religion, clashing with family, finding an outlet for her passion, calling out rape culture and sexism—and good times and the bad help her discover who she truly is and what she believes. Xiomara discovering and falling in love with slam poetry while we’re reading her poetry is a beautiful experience. It made me want to pull up some of my favorite Sarah Kay videos (yes, I had a slam poetry phase in my 20s) and just put them on repeat.

Even without knowing author Elizabeth Acevedo’s impressive and extensive body of slam poetry work, her love for the form was clear throughout the book. And so was Xiomara’s. I loved every time Xiomara made it to the poetry club or interacted with the other members, especially Ms. Galiano. Women mentoring other women is one of my favorite things, and having this teacher repeatedly reach out to Xiomara and encourage her talents was honestly inspiring.

But Xiomara’s story isn’t just a steady upward climb of honing her poetic talents; it touches on several more difficult topics. She is keenly aware of how much rape culture permeates her life and how much her mother buys into it and into the church’s sexism. There are some awful, painful scenes where Xiomara is punished (or insulted) for her budding sexuality and religious doubt. While there is a mostly hopeful conclusion to some of this, it left me concerned that Xiomara had only really bought herself some breathing space with her mother. (But that’s my pessimistic self.)

The romantic relationship between Xiomara and Aman is very well done, and Aman is one of the many interesting supporting characters in the book. One of the best traits a romantic lead can have, in my opinion, is consistently demonstrating a desire to listen. When Xiomara felt like she had to be silent, Aman was there, encouraging her with her poetry. (Another excellent trait is knowing when to apologize and how to make up for doing wrong.) I was also very fond of Twin (Xiomara’s twin brother, Xavier) and Caridad, as well as Ms. Galiano.

Overall, The Poet X is an important, moving novel in verse about growing up and finding your voice in a world that can be very hostile to your existence. Acevedo’s writing made me pause, more than once, to wonder at the beauty and cleverness of particular phrases or imagery. I’m definitely going to spend the weekend watching some of her videos (link below).

Recommendation: Buy it now, especially if you love poetry. The Poet X is a great coming of age story about discovering your voice in a world that is hostile to your existence. Acevedo’s debut novel features a memorable heroine and gorgeous poetry, and your life would be richer for reading it.


Elizabeth Acevedo – Books, Poems & Videos

Elizabeth Acevedo and Sarah Kay on Their New Books, Latinx Representation, and Why Poetry Is Political

Q & A with Elizabeth Acevedo

Review: Fire Song

Title: Fire Song
Author: Adam Garnet Jones
Publisher: Annick Press
Pages: 232
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA
Availability: Release date is March 13, 2018
Review copy: ARC provided by publisher

Summary: How can Shane reconcile his feelings for David with his desire for a better life?

Shane is still reeling from the suicide of his kid sister, Destiny. How could he have missed the fact that she was so sad? He tries to share his grief with his girlfriend, Tara, but she’s too concerned with her own needs to offer him much comfort. What he really wants is to be able to turn to the one person on the rez whom he loves—his friend, David.

Things go from bad to worse as Shane’s dream of going to university is shattered and his grieving mother withdraws from the world. Worst of all, he and David have to hide their relationship from everyone. Shane feels that his only chance of a better life is moving to Toronto, but David refuses to join him. When yet another tragedy strikes, the two boys have to make difficult choices about their future together.

With deep insight into the life of Indigenous people on the reserve, this book masterfully portrays how a community looks to the past for guidance and comfort while fearing a future of poverty and shame. Shane’s rocky road to finding himself takes many twists and turns, but ultimately ends with him on a path that doesn’t always offer easy answers, but one that leaves the reader optimistic about his fate.

Review: Shane is tired. So many, many things are wearing him down. His sister’s death and the grief he’s feeling is obvious and painful, but there are many other things in his life that are overwhelming. He and his mother don’t have money for a new roof and college, but the roof cannot wait. His mother is debilitated by her grief and is no help in decision making or even with day to day care of herself. He is also agonizing about his relationships. He has a girlfriend with issues of her own, but he is also secretly seeing David. Shane is willing to talk about their relationship publicly, but David wants no part of that. Shane has heard of two-spirited people being welcomed, but even he can’t really picture it. He’s eager to be open in spite of the fears though. With all of this swirling around in his life, Shane is trying to hang on and make a path to get away before he gives up on his dreams.

The format of the book is somewhat unique. There are two perspectives. Shane’s point of view is told in third person and is the bulk of the storytelling, but his girlfriend’s point of view is also shown here and there. Her story is in first person as if in a journal and includes her poetry which is often quite moving. I enjoyed Tara’s portion of the story and actually wished for more from her. She’s trying to write herself into existence and be someone “worth seeing, worth being, worth taking care of.”

Grief and how individuals and the community deal with it is a major part of the story. There is a mix of tradition and individuality in the responses. Shane respects traditions, but is also open to doing things in different and new ways. One thing Shane craves is smudging. He loved seeing the smoke curl up over his mother’s shoulders in the mornings. His mother lit the smudge every morning of his life until his sister’s death. The medicine and ceremony are another loss for him as his mother pulls into herself.

The reserve is a big part of the story. The people and their daily life is important, but Shane’s relationship to the place itself is also significant. He feels his ancestors around him there. He isn’t sure he believes in the spirits and doesn’t always understand the teachings of the elders, but he definitely feels a spiritual connection to this place that is his home. “The elders may not be right about everything, but there is something in this place that can’t be explained with language.”

Shane is grappling with his grief, what he believes about his place in the world, his sexuality, and a variety of other things. This is a coming-of-age book with a young man trying to untangle the knots in his life. The end of the book is a bit rushed with many things happening at once, but it was satisfying overall. Fire Song is not easy to read, especially if you have lost a loved one by suicide, but it’s ultimately a hopeful story.

Recommendation: Fire Song is a look into the lives of teens trying to find themselves in the midst of tragedy and pain. Get it soon if you enjoy realistic fiction. It’s a powerful book.

Book Trailer

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